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The Remains of Company D: A Story of the Great War Hardcover – October 13, 2009

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The Remains of Company D: A Story of the Great War + Five Lieutenants: The Heartbreaking Story of Five Harvard Men Who Led America to Victory in World War I
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312551002
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312551001
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6.6 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #452,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nelson's grandfather fought in WWI. Wounded in 1917, he survived until 1993 but said little about his experience. Inheriting only his grandfather's dog tag, a Purple Heart and a few postcards, Nelson, a former staff writer for the Miami Herald, resolved to tell his story and that of his 250-man company. Using these scraps, old newspaper accounts, government archives, secondary sources and a good deal of imagination, Nelson delivers biographies of dozens of young men, poor and middle-class, swept into the American Expeditionary Force and shipped to France, where General Pershing, anxious to prove the superiority of American fighting men (and convinced that trench warfare was for sissies), flung them at German lines, where they performed magnificently but suffered terrible casualties. Despite a dearth of primary material (no diaries turned up), Nelson delivers a creditable performance, bringing to life an America of 90 years ago in which many eagerly answered their president's call, but others (Nelson's grandfather among them) went about their business until drafted and then dutifully joined the carnage. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Not since Flags of Our Fathers—no, make that, Not since Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory—no, make that, Not ever—has an American nonfiction writer reached into history and produced a testament of young men in terrible battle with the stateliness, the mastery of cadence, the truthfulness and the muted heartbreak of James Carl Nelson in The Remains of Company D. I wish I’d had the honor of working on this book with him. But then, he didn’t need me.”---Ron Powers, New York Times bestselling coauthor of Flags of Our Fathers and author of Mark Twain: A Life

“A beautifully crafted anthem to doomed American youth, James Carl Nelson’s The Remains of Company D is a must-read for World War I enthusiasts and those looking for a damn good war book.”---Alex Kershaw, New York Times bestselling author of The Longest Winter and The Bedford Boys

“War is always hell, but the unprecedented carnage on World War I’s Western Front was the stuff of nightmares. The American boys of Company D were on the front lines, and James Carl Nelson has combined previously unpublished first-person accounts, prodigious research, and vivid, you-are-there prose into one of the great books on the subject. This is a Band of Brothers for World War I.”---James Donovan, author of A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn—the Last Great Battle of the American West

“James Carl Nelson’s book is a great contribution to AEF history. He has done an incredible amount of research in order to convey the experience of one group of doughboys...and to tell their story through their own words.….He reminds us that these long-forgotten battles of ninety years ago were as hard fought as any before or since, and that our country was well served by the young men who fought them. Get this book. It puts a very human face on the experience of Americans on the Western Front.”---Dr. Paul Herbert, executive director of the Cantigny First Division Foundation


More About the Author


Ninety-five-and-a-half years ago the campus of Harvard University was abuzz; the United States had declared war on Germany and there was a rush to get into it. Final exams were moved up to accommodate those eager to enlist, and see what had been going on Over There for almost three years, where a snaking line of trenches split France in half, where French and British and German faced each other just yards away across an impenetrable No Man's Land pocked with the detritus of earlier failed assaults -- cast-away rifles, rusting wires, dead bodies bleaching in gas-fouled pools of water at the bottom of deep shell holes, helmets and bits of uniform from all sides.

It's difficult today to imagine why anyone would rush to sign on for a visit to such a scene, but in the spring of 1917 such places held an allure for many young American men. Some signed on with the army out of a lust for adventure, some out of sheer patriotism, some because there was a shared sense that America had been wronged, some because it would be the ultimate test -- and others because in the Great War they saw an opportunity to do their small part in not just saving society but in recasting it, wiping away the stain of inequality and forging a new world in which democracy-loving peoples would work together for the common good.

Five Lieutenants tells the story of five of these idealistic young men, Harvard-educated all, who enlisted in officers' training camps, were sent to France, and fought in the 1918 battles at Cantigny and/or Soissons. The book is an outgrowth of and natural bookend to my first book The Remains of Company
D: A Story of the Great War (see below), and in fact four of the five lieutenants had small cameos in Remains.

In their stories I saw the opportunity to define the spirit of the American soldier who went Over There and to what seemed almost-certain death. I sought to answer, as well, several questions. What drew these young, educated men into such a maelstrom? How did they breach the cultural chasm that spread between their own privileged background and education and the rough and not nearly as educated doughboys who served under them? Did their backgrounds and education make them natural leaders, as the army and society supposed, or was that a false conceit?

Five Lieutenants answers those questions, and in addition paints what I hope is one of the most intimate and moving portraits of young men at war that has ever been produced. Read it and through their eyes you'll see and smell the war, experience their hardships and take pleasure in their small joys, and lead men over the top at Cantigny and endure what they endured at that small French village at the end of May, 1918. It's a unique and human story that like Remains needed telling, and I'm glad to have had the privilege of doing that for Lts. Richard Newhall, George Haydock, William O.P. Morgan, Alexander McKinlock, and George B. Redwood.



He loved cars, hated dogs, and was middling about kids. He was something of a pool shark, even well into his eighties spry enough to lay himself out across the green velvet of his table in the basement and pocket the eight ball with a nifty carom. He was a painter by trade, a curmudgeon by choice, a Swedish immigrant by happenstance, and a poor violin player by lack of talent.
And, oh, yes - he was shot in France as he raced across a field way back in 1918, and very nearly died.
All of the above tell you something about my grandfather, the simply named John Nelson, but it was that last bit that seized my attention from an early age, when I became smitten with all things military, and was astounded to learn that the old man I called Grandpa Nelson had a war story of his own.
And the story was simple as well: At some point, and for some reason, my grandfather had been shot in the left side by a machine gun bullet, laid out on the field overnight, and then was "saved" by two exotic stretcher-bearers from some exotic French Colonial unit.
I dreamed about this; I appropriated the story for retelling during furious backyard battles that went on summer after summer in the Chicago suburb in which I was raised (yes, I'm that old).
And when I was old enough, when I had children of my own and a better sense of the context surrounding John Nelson's near-death experience, I went looking for what else I could find of his story, seized myself by a need to understand what he had been doing in the Army, and in that field.
He was limited in words, Old School all the way, and not one whose memory could be prodded into a kindly retelling of The Good Old Days. So it wasn't until after he died in 1993, at the age of 101, that I sought out his story, my initial poking into the ashes of his life producing some medical records that indicated he had suffered much more from that wound than he ever let on, and as well a muster roll for the unit in which he served - Company D, 28th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 1st Division.
I initially hoped simply that by researching the names on that roll - Captain Soren C. Sorensen, Private Rollin Livick, Sergeant Willard S. Storms - I might be able to tell the story of the circumstances that had left him face-down and bleeding into the soil of France.
But with some early good luck in obtaining family records and other material, I realized for the first time that John Nelson's story had not occurred in a vacuum, that every name on that roll had his own story, and that - it may sound sappy, but I mean this - perhaps I had been chosen to tell the cumulative tale of Company D in the Great War.
Slowly, over years of teeth-pulling and searching for needles in haystacks, the story did emerge, or as much of it as I could find. And it was an important story, I thought and still think, a story of unheralded sacrifice and tragedy and glory and heroism by otherwise ordinary young men. And it's a story we should all know.
It's a story of the war's fallen, who were rolled into shell holes or dragged their mortally wounded bodies off to die alone in a clump of bushes, and it's a story of the war's survivors, who -- most battered physically, if not emotionally - came home singly to pick up their lives as best they could, while the nation swept the war under the rug and moved on, with an almost audible sigh and a whispered, "What was that all about?"
The sacrifices of the dead and living would be overshadowed before too long by the sacrifices and heroism of The Greatest Generation, while these old doughboys would simply fade away in the last half of the 20th Century, most of their individual stories and experiences ignored in the books that did try to explain America's short-lived role in the murderous First World War, but which resorted to a collective and unnamed "they" in the retelling.
And so, beginning with the small tale of the woebegone John Nelson, I saw it as my privilege and honor to smoke out the stories within the story of Company D of the 28th Infantry Regiment, and by extension the individual stories of every doughboy who inhaled gas or died anonymously in the trenches at Cantigny, or the scarred landscape of the Argonne, or while chasing after his life on the wide and open fields of Soissons.
Old soldiers may fade away, but their stories need not. The Remains of Company D was written for those who died and are now forgotten, and for all of the old soldiers who somehow lived through that hell on the Western Front - first and foremost, my grandfather.

Customer Reviews

This book tells the story of heroes from the Great War and gives these heroes a voice that should be heard.
Having said all that, I still believe the book to be a very good one and perhaps I have made too much of a case for its use as a "Bully Pulpit".
Dr. James J. Good
I've done some similar research of my own as well so I know full well the immense amount of work Nelson has put into this book.
S. Lawrenz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By James W. Durney TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
We suffer from a lack of good World War I books. The majority of books, like the war, have thousands of men going "over the top" into massed machine guns. This is not a criticism of the authors but a statement of fact. Years ago, when they were inexpensive, I bought several "how to" books written by British officers for American officers. Reading them, I came to understand that No Man's Land was a varied place with multiple tactical problems. Most of the war was much more than a massed attack destined to end badly.
The author's grandfather fought in the First Division in 1918 on the Western Front. What follows is not a history of the AEF or the First Division. This is a history of Company D, 28th Infantry Regiment and what combat in 1918 was like. Working with a combination of first person accounts, standard histories and newspapers the author constructs his story. We move from the front, to the rear, to home and back again quickly. Sometimes this can be jarring but it presents a more complete story, giving us a fuller understanding of why and how of things happening to D Company at the front.
The maps are good, most at one mile to the inch, and allow the reader to gain an indertanding of where the men are. In addition to the war, we get a look at the American midwest during the war and life almost 100 years ago.
The chapters "In the Interest of Humanity" and "To the End of Your Days" are worth the price of the book. This is powerful stuff dealing with loss and the impact of war on the following years. The men who fought are gone now. This book is an excellent tribute to them and the price they paid making "the world safe for democracy."
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By S. Lawrenz VINE VOICE on September 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Remains of Company D, by James Nelson, is an account of Company D of the 28th United States Infantry Regiment and its ordeal on the Western Front in war torn France towards the end of World War 1. As the grandson of one of the soldiers of Company D, Nelson sought to find details of his grandfather's hidden life after his grandfather's death in 1993. What he found was the lives of dozens of men who lived and died in the trenches and life stories as profound as that of his grandfather.

Nelson writes chronologically, first detailing his relationship with his Grandfather, a World War 1 veteran, then moving on to the world of the early 20th century and the actions of Company D in the war. He details some of the contacts he made and the research he did as he discovered the lives of his grandfather's comrades at arms. The book uses written accounts from memoirs, letters and newspaper reports to tell the very personal stories from before and after the war of many of the men of Company D who fought and died in France.

World War 1 books are relatively rare these days. Overshadowed by the war that the children of World War 1 veterans fought, it's a mostly forgotten war that many seem only to know of because of the mere fact that to have 2nd World War, there must have been a first one.

Nelson makes a profound statement in this book that really caught my attention, that it is through those that did NOT survive the war that the most information about it can be found. Those who died left behind grieving families who saved what mementos and treasures of their loved ones that they could. It's those things that make up a lot of the sources of this book and are referenced in its title.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Joshua Senecal VINE VOICE on September 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book tells, as best as the author is able to determine, the story of Company D, 28th Infantry regiment, in World War I. The author, James Nelson, began to work on collecting material when he learned a little more about his grandfather's service in Company D and desired to know more about the history of it, as it is part of his grandfather's history.

Books of this sort are valuable. Those of us who have never experienced war or been affected by it (I fall in that category) need to know what others did, the sacrifices they made, and the experiences they had. War is truly a horrific thing, and those of us who have no knowledge of it (or think we do, based solely on movies we've seen) need to appreciate these people who go and fight when called upon to do so.

Generally, I enjoyed the book. It's fascinating to see how people from all backgrounds and walks of life answered their country's call and served. The book is formed from as much historical record the author could find (letters, military records, interviews, etc.), with the author's comments and speculation in some places. As to be expected, there is extensive quoting from these sources.

Personally, while I found the book to be interesting and worth the read, I didn't find it engaging. There are some books that you pick up, start reading, and just can't put down. This unfortunately isn't one of those. It comes close, but does fall short.

One of the reasons may be that although Company D fought in more than one engagement, the author is in my opinion excessively fixated on one event: the crossing of the Paris-Soissons road. It looms over everything.
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